It’s been an amazing month of deep contemplation of anti-capitalism, the 3rd principle of Disability Justice. If I turn my attention to it, I can recognize the impact of capitalism on literally everything — social conditions, relationships, my own thoughts, beliefs, desires…everything. It’s painful to examine it, and also somewhat of a relief to be able to identify capitalism as a source of so much suffering, oppression, disconnection. We’ve been conditioned by the lies of capitalism, and in recognizing it, we begin to free ourselves. I don’t mean I as an individual will free myself from capitalism. I mean that we, recognizing it and working together, free ourselves, all of us.
I’ve been encouraging everyone to try it, to start noticing how capitalism — this system in which the value of a body, a mind, a life, is determined by its productivity or profitability — affects you personally, affects your relationships, and systemically affects all people. Not knowing a lot of the history, I can’t say for sure that capitalism created ableism, but it sure is deeply intertwined with it. Even just in my own life I can see that my habitual sense of my own worth is intimately tied to what I do, and my internalized ableism draws heavily from this mechanism. I imagine others judge me with this mechanism, too. If I don’t do enough of the right things, I won’t be loved. The ableism I project outward too, seems to also be connected to my judgment about what folks can “do” or not, or how I imagine they will connect with my own doing and sense of worth.
There’s a lot about individualism that I don’t understand. It seems tied to capitalism, and to whiteness and to any form of privilege or access to power. So much of ableism relies on it. I’m thinking about the ways we are obsessed with our own experience as the framework for what we are willing to believe. For example, if someone tells me what they experience, feel or need, and it is something I have not experienced myself, the mind’s first reaction is to not believe them, and to judge them. I’m guessing we all do this to some extent. (The examples that come to mind are things like: “oh, those people with X problem are such drama queens,” or “if it’s accessible for me it must be fine for everyone,” or “those people are so sensitive about X.”) Check it out and see what you find.
Does privilege make one more apt to do this? I recall a quote a saw somewhere: “Privilege is when something is not a problem to you because it’s not a problem to you personally.”
I think this is why I have loved listening as an intentional practice. Allowing myself the space to just devote myself to listening to others is a way of interrupting this tendency to “me me me” all the time, it opens the mind and heart, allows real connection, starts to dissolve the sense of separation. Meditation can be like this, too — intentional listening to the body-mind, creating the space for tenderness, compassion, and a creative approach toward what’s really happening, noticing and starting to unhook from the judgments of capitalism, ableism and so many intertwined systems that keep us averted and disconnected from our actual experience. These systems don’t want us to know ourselves at all, much less to know each other. In the same way we are always measuring everyone else against “me,” we are also always measuring ourselves and others against what we’ve been conditioned to believe. These are often the things we think we “know,” and they are lies.
We need some really deep listening to recognize and get underneath the conditioning of capitalism. We have been so duped.
Patty Berne talks about how the disabled body is inherently anti-capitalist. This points to the revolutionary power of these very body minds, right here. There is so much wisdom available right here. I’m feeling intensely grateful to all the crips whose wisdom and labor have birthed and developed the thinking around Disability Justice.
In this practice of deep diving into the principles of Disability Justice, I notice, too, that as I take on a new principle to contemplate or practice with each month, rather than moving from one principle to the next, they’re building on each other. Each new principle teaches me so much about the previous principles.
Intersectionality. I’ve been noticing in myself that I’ve been participating in a kind of hierarchy of oppressions, using a one dimensional framework. As a white person who is queer, gender non conforming, far and disabled, I have practiced a kind of politics that centered antiracism to the exclusion of the areas where I experienced lack of social power. The practice of “stepping back” as a white person gets really entangled with the internalized oppression around fat and disability. Many times I have noticed myself thinking “oh, we’ll deal with racism first, then we can talk about ableism and fat oppression.” Really? I thought we were gonna take care of racism before we addressed anything else?
I think it felt too much like I’d be centering my own needs if I focused too much on the areas where I experience oppression, or that people would think I was selfish or trying to exempt myself from my role in white supremacy. The principle of intersectionality requires that we develop our capacity for more nuance and complexity. There is not just one axis of power. There are so many. We need to be able to hold them all AT THE SAME TIME. They don’t negate each other. They co-exist.
When I push ableism and fat hatred to the side as unrelated to racism, not only do I reinforce my own internalized ableism, I also reinforced the harmful lie that ableism and fat hatred are white issues. So I am throwing disabled and fat people of color under the bus with me.
I remember my friend Cholla saying they worried the DJ principle of “leadership of the most impacted” encouraged a hierarchy of oppressions. I want to say that a commitment to intersectionality helps address that, as I am noticing just in my own practice. But I am also seeing that if the people who are impacted are not leading, they are likely to be thrown under the bus. When I look at groups I’m part of, what I find is that for the most part, if disabled people aren’t in leadership, there is very little awareness of ableism. If fat people with a fat liberation perspective are not in leadership, you can damn well be sure that there is very little, if any, awareness of fat oppression. If people of color aren’t in leadership, awareness of racism is so limited.
Someone I love who is not at all connected to all the various political things I’m involved in asked me in a text message, in response to an article I posted about disability justice, “so are you saying that everyone is disabled except for white men?” I thought it would be best answered in person rather than over text message, so it could be a real conversation that made space for noticing and addressing assumptions on both our parts. My short answer is, no, disability justice isn’t saying that everyone except white men are disabled. But when I think about access, and the social model of disability locating disability in the environment and how accessible it is, I do start to think of disability more broadly. So I think it’s an interesting and kind of astute observation.